A. Cornelius Baker
“AIDS made us stronger. Despite the dying, we pulled together. It really made us become a community. It made us better people.”
“Those of us who have seen so much horror over the past 19 years, living through the deaths of all our friends, we certainly know what we are fighting against. But I also think it’s important that we know what we are fighting for: to create a world that is much more abundant in love and compassion, a world full of the beauty that comes from human beings acting decently toward one another.”
“I believe that you have to confront racism constantly, you just have to confront it. We cannot allow it to exist in any form in our society ....”
“I’ve always been far more interested in social activism and working with charities, working to build community ... I want to be where I can be of service.”
Cornelius Baker has been one of the HIV/AIDS community's most successful organization builders and advocates on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. With an activism career spanning two decades, Baker is the former executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic and of the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). His familiarity with the local leather community led him to volunteer for the local gay foundation Brother, Help Thyself (BHT). At the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, he currently serves on the Executive Committee as National Policy Advisor.
In 1982, Baker arrived in DC for an internship at the Kennedy Center, and stayed, moving to a job at the City Paper. He recalls, “The day that I arrived, I knew that this was home.” In 1983 he began working with BHT, becoming head of fundraising in 1985, and board chair in 1987.
In 1984 he worked on Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign and subsequently for Carole Schwartz’s campaign, in both cases working to advance gay issues. Following Schwartz’s election, Baker worked as her aide, from 1986 to 1989.
AIDS drew his attention early as friends became ill and as he attended early local AIDS forums. At BHT he raised funds for AIDS support. The Best Friends project started in his living room. Following his resignation from his position at US Department of Health and Human Services' AIDS office, Baker became the first policy director at the National Association of People With AIDS in 1992, becoming executive director in 1996.
In 1999, already a member of the Board of Whitman-Walker Clinic, Baker was chosen to be executive director. Over the next five years, he shaped the Clinic’s changing response to AIDS support and prevention and its recurring need for funding in the midst of uncertain public funding and competition from other nonprofits. Following his work at the Clinic, Baker became active with the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition.